Time for action on new arena in capital city

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Charlottetown Eastlink Centre.

The giant blue elephant that has bedeviled Charlottetown and its city council for the past 30 years may finally be approaching the end of its controversial life span. There is a general consensus that it’s not before time. The city has approved a modest $75,000 to enable a task force to hire consultants and determine the feasibility of building a new, multi-use facility to replace the Eastlink Centre.

The civic centre complex was built primarily for the 1991 Canada Winter Games, yet the accusation was levelled at the time and for years afterwards that the arena was more suited for livestock than hockey games or entertainment shows.

It was easier to get a prize Holstein into the building at ground level than have the animal delicately tip-toe down a dizzying descent from an upper promenade. Thus, the error in the bottom loading of fans and the feeling of being inside a concrete coffin.

A fractious group was assembled around the boardroom table to finalize plans for a new arena in the late 1980s. The city favoured a waterfront location, while the province and Ottawa wanted to appease the regional racing and P.E.I. agricultural community at the Charlottetown Driving Park.

The final design and location were a compromise. The civic centre did open a year early and thousands of young athletes, coaches and mission staff marched into the building almost exactly 25 years ago — February 17, 1991.

The arena has been undergoing renovations and upgrades ever since in order to welcome the P.E.I. Senators, the Rocket/Islanders franchise and most recently, the Island Storm.

Deficiencies that kept Elton John from appearing in Charlottetown are well known. The English rocker had serious security concerns. The singer didn’t want to compete with fans in the bowels of the arena trying to get to their seats while he was trying to find refuge in a dressing room.

And the list goes on.

Charlottetown is falling off the scale of event sites. Truro has just opened a new arena complex, Moncton is building a new facility to replace the aging Coliseum and Halifax is moving forward on a new convention centre.

The city wants to proceed cautiously. The key question is money — who pays to build and operate such a facility?  Conservatively, it would cost at least $40 million, and more likely, closer to $60 million. Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee is right. Just because a task force is exploring a multi-use facility does not mean it will be built. The business plan make no sense.

As for the location, everything seems to point to building on the site of the provincial government garage between Park Street and Riverside Drive, along the bypass highway.

Options exist to incorporate other attractions into the facility to bring more dollars to the table such as a hotel, provincial museum, commercial outlets and dining options. The Charlottetown Curling Club would welcome a chance to leave its cramped, outdated facility.

Simmons and Cody Banks arenas could be decommissioned as hockey rinks and used for summer events or sold. There will be cost advantages in a new facility.

An independent consultant’s report released in June 2009 stated the Civic Centre was poorly designed, already out-dated and fixing the problem would cost as much as $34 million. Building a new facility would cost over $40 million. That report has collected dust over the past five years.

The sesquicentennial of the Charlottetown Conference in 2014 has come and gone without any permanent legacy. It was an opportunity squandered. Now the next best chance is to tie in with the 150th birthday celebrations of Canadian Confederation in 2017. If the city and province come on board and leverage the lion’s share of dollars from Ottawa for a legacy project, plus pry money from private donations — the facility might become a reality. The harness racing industry and Atlantic Lottery must play an important role in what happens as well.

The question facing Charlottetown is whether the capital city and its residents are content with a second-rate facility.

Patrons want amenities and attractions to convince them to attend games, trade shows or musical acts. There are lots of options for the entertainment dollar. Fans want comfort — not cramped, hard, plastic seats and obscured sightlines. They will stay home and watch the game on their computer or cable TV.

If the present facility remains in use, they’ll likely be watching games from Moncton and Halifax while scratching their heads and wondering why Charlottetown can’t attract or keep quality entertainment shows or sports teams.

If we want to accept mediocrity, so be it.

If we want a modern, vibrant multi-use facility to rejuvenate this city and province, it’s time to overcome challenges with some vision and risk-taking.

Organizations: P.E.I. Senators, Islanders, Charlottetown Curling Club Cody Banks Civic Centre Canadian Confederation

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Ottawa, Canada Moncton Park Street Riverside Drive

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Recent comments

  • John
    February 19, 2016 - 09:38

    here is not a street in Charlottetown that does not need to be fixing. Never mind wasting money on studies etc. and arenas we don't need. Fix the streets. I sometimes wonder if the councillors have wings, since they seem not to notice what shape this whole town is in streetwise. Heard they are planning on wasting several hundred thousands on narrowing up Queen Elizabeth Dr. to prevent tour busses going that way . Talk about folly, -- not to mention drag. Yah, Clifford is a man of the people??

  • Aongasha
    February 19, 2016 - 09:35

    $75K for consultants - $60 million for a new arena? Sure why not? It's only one more thing the poor taxpayer will have to give his money to the government for. A taxpayer who earns considerably less than all the politicians involved, I might add.. Why not? It's sunny ways right or maybe it should read 'stunned daze'. What a freakin' bunch!

  • Islander
    February 18, 2016 - 22:38

    The City of Charlottetown needs a new facility, not many will dispell this,. Just build one within your means with corporate sponsors and not at the taxpayers expensse.

  • Cromwell
    February 18, 2016 - 20:03

    'There is a general consensus that it’s not before time.....', states the unnamed author of this editorial. I would request the source of this 'general consensus', given that consensus means 'general or widespread agreement', since I believe that this position is likely only in the hallowed halls of City Hall. Charlottetown, with a population of about 32,000, is in the midst of a significant change in demographics (courtesy of the Liberal Party), with increasing numbers of residents who will almost certainly not support the type of activities being suggested. I also take exception to the author's description of the proposed $75,000 consultant's fee as 'modest' - given the lack of fiscal responsibility being shown by Mr. Lee et al, it is grossly immodest! It seems that for Mr. Lee, he wants to leave an indelible stamp of his time in office for posterity, and one with a $60 million price tag. If city council believe that there is an absolute need for a new multi-purpose arena, then let them make a proper proposal and seek private funding, such that all those potential customers who believe that there is a pressing need for a new arena can pay the appropriate admission cost to help finance the facility, while those of us who want nothing to do with such a 'cash cow' can rest easy, knowing that our taxes are not going to increase to cover the cost of what must surely be the ultimate folly.

  • ralph
    February 18, 2016 - 16:15

    NOOOOOOO it is not time for a new ARENA. It is time to sit back and give the taxpayers a break. We are not all civil servants, politicians or city councillors who all just give themselves a raise any time they see fit. Fix the frigging streets that wreck our cars when driving on them if you need to spend the money, then do something that help us us all out.

  • Reader
    February 18, 2016 - 10:34

    Once again and other insightful article. Your editorials should be required reading for politicians. Keep up the good work and the great reporting.